Whilst common to anticipate future happenings, it is equally if not more vital to reflect on the past. To analyse where our origins lie and what trail of events, cultures and traditions took place to lead us to where we are, at this very moment.
This year’s inaugural Ilham Art Show – an exhibition of 31 emerging and established artists – offers its audience an array of themes, genres and perspectives to the work. There are narratives of migration, technological advances (or regresses), politics and history. But, there is one concept that rears its head multiple times: the theme of introspection. Particularly, the anomalies of the past and how they have constructed our present.
"Jaga Life" by Dhavinder Singh
Credit to: Diana Lee.
It usually does not require complex objects to ignite nostalgia within. In Dhavinder’s case, he finds reminisce in everyday, ordinary things. In Jaga Life, he invites us into the history books of his grandparents and the toils of many other Sikhs during that era. His piece consists of a time recorder on a bare grey wall, with a collection of name cards next to it, identical to ones used by workers to clock in and out of factories where his grandparents worked as jagas (watchmen).
The name cards are tattered and decoloured. The time recorder machine is faded and a little rusty. He presents the objects just as is, to show his grandparent’s history in all its raw nature. A time recorder may seem like a simple object, but here, it tells a story of sacrifice, long work hours, lack of sleep, toil, grit and endeavour. The glaring warning sign prohibiting workers from meddling with their colleague’s work cards reminds us work was in a strict, harsh environment. The piece also tells a story of Sikh’s in Malaysia’s history where upon migrating many worked as policemen and in defense positions. After they retire, many of them, just like Dhavinder’s grandparents, end up working in related fields, such as being watchmen.
"Aiyier Di Aiyier Tarjun Lambah Anai Taruih Magalier (Air Di Air Terjun Lembah Anai Terus Mengalir)" by Mimi Aslinda
Credit to: Diana Lee.
Suspended in the centre of Ilham gallery is a portrait of Mimi Aslinda’s family, made of cloth weavings, very much tattered around the edges. Mimi’s family migrated from Indonesia to Malaysia, but despite having a citizenship, Mimi was rejected from a fine arts school for not having Bumiputera status. Mimi’s piece delicately weaves in much symbolism from the fragments of her life. The material used are fabrics from her parent’s hijab factory, signifying how impactful their hardwork and resilience is in building the pieces of their family. Even with cloth scraps, Mimi manages to add so much definition to the faces of her family. One can obviously see the exhausted expressions of the children and the subtle smile from her mother, providing insight on the capabilities of Mimi as an artist. Another captivating element is the lack of proper borders to the piece. The cloth hangs loose at varying lengths. They are cut in uneven shapes. From migrating to a new land, to not being accepted into university, borders have been a part of Mimi’s life. The absence of borders in her work is symbolic in her desire to embrace freedom.
"Quarry" by Hasanul Isyraf Idris
Credit to: Diana Lee.
This piece is the kind of work where you stare at it at first, seems complex but when you uncover its underlying meaning you see it from a different lens. Hasanul allowed many parts of his life to intersect here. After losing three family members to Covid 19, he drove back to his hometown and during the drive observed quarries where his father used to work as a security guard. The three resin heads placed on the ground of this structure represent his three late family members. It can be seen as a way for Hasanul to immortalise their presence in his life, together with his work. The structure of the quarry is reflective and has prominent creases and folds which is so likened to the rockiness of an actual quarry, a meticulous point added as Hasanul coloured it in with a graphite stick. Upon reading on graphite, it is a material that comes from the disintegration of dead plants and animals. A delicate touch to further honour the cycle of life and the important figures that come and leave us in this process. Hasanul manoeuvres through the concepts of mortality with dignity and flair.
In conclusion, the work displayed at the show offers a sense of reflection, questioning and realisation. It allows the audience to lament on the past, honour the present and have hope for the future. The 31 artists somehow managed to seep individuality into their work while sticking to the theme. It is a journey of ponder that all audiences should indulge in.